Are you using cotton grocery bags because you believe they’re better for the environment? Convinced that plastic bags are ruining the planet? Well, scientists have some interesting news – recent studies from two countries prove that plastic bags are the best option for the environment, while cotton bags are actually having a negative impact on our planet and human health.
In Canada, Recyc-Québec, an environmental organization based in Montreal, released a study that found the conventional plastic bag is the best option for the environment due to several advantages. The study states, “Thin and light, its [plastic bags’] production requires little material and energy.” Plastic bags also have a high reuse rate as garbage bag/bin liners (77.7%), which helps avoid the production and use of additional bags for that purpose. According to Recyc-Québec, the overall life-cycle of the plastic bag – from production to the end of its life – has far less environmental impact compared with other bags.
In fact, Recyc-Québec recommends against using cotton bags, which were found to have a significant impact on human health. Not only that, cotton bags are harmful for the environment. A single cotton bag, the study found, requires “between 100 and 2,954 uses for its environmental impact to be equivalent to the environmental impacts of the conventional plastic bag.” Other bags that are deemed “reusable” require anywhere from 35 to 75 reuses “so that their impacts on Life Cycle Environmental Indicators are equivalent to or better than those of the conventional plastic bag.” This is unrealistic, as many people forget their bags at home, meaning the bags don’t get reused as much as you’d think.
Across the pond, the new study from Denmark’s Environmental Protection Agency found even more staggering results. The study reports that cotton bags should be reused at least 52 times to offset its climate change impact, and at least 7,100 times in order to offset the impact on all environmental indicators. The report states the “very high number of reuse times is given by the ozone depletion impact alone.” Plain and simple: these bags are bad news for the environment.
And of course, along with the finding that plastic bags are better for the environment, they also reported that plastic bags are 100% reusable.
While people may think that banning or taxing plastic bags is a quick win for the environment, there’s a wealth of research showing that bans and taxes strip away the most environmentally friendly option from consumers. It’s great to see the facts spreading across the world – we just hope our legislators will take this new research to heart when developing future policies.